October 23rd 2017

Media / Watchdog

Discontent rocks 'Star' amid biting cuts, correspondents' rebellion against editors

Reporters working at the paper told this website that for nearly a week, the company's third floor offices have been disconnected from Nairobi Water services, forcing staff to help themselves from the Bavaria Restaurant behind the building.

By Joshua Mwangangijmwangangi@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 28 Mar 2017 19:40 EAT

After sacking dozens of employees last month in the company's first mass job cuts, the Radio Africa Group that publishes the Star newspaper and runs KissTV, KissFM and Classic 105 among other channels seems to have plunged to even greater financial depths. The company's wage bill remains high, with the effect of the job cuts due to be felt only the third quarter of this year.

While the monthly wage bill has been reduced by over 20 percent at the moment, the firm's operational costs remain nearly at the level they were before the restructuring, forcing a second, some say ad hoc, phase of cuts on services and employee benefits that have left staff who survived the restructuring resenting the company.

A number of junior editors are also reported to be on their way out, with digital editor Joseph Kariuki having tendered his resignation earlier this month after he differed with his superiors on the running of the Star's news website. Reflecting of the paper's declining human resource base, Mr Kariuki's place has been taken over by reporter Oliver Mathenge, who received his appointment with a sense of disbelief.

Reporters working at the paper told this website that for nearly a week, the company's third floor offices have have been disconnected from Nairobi Water services, forcing staff to help themselves from the Bavaria Restaurant behind the building. Subscription for Daily Nation and Standard newspapers for senior staff have been canceled, and the staff have been advised to read the papers online.

But by far the most drastic measure for some staff members has been the discontinuation of staff refreshment. Until a few months ago, Star staffers could make themselves as much tea or coffee as they wished in the course of the day. The facility has now been discontinued and the coffee and tea mixers removed from the office.

With the cuts have come greater centralisation of financial decision-making. Unlike in the past when finance managers could raise vouchers for miscellaneous expenditures, these days only Mr Patrick Quarcoo, the founder of Radio Africa and group chief executive, is authorized to approve small expenditures like the buying of sugar for staff tea that has now been cut from the budget.

Mr Quarcoo is also in charge of of making decisions on routine maintenance decisions for company cars. "If a company van gets a puncture and the driver wants to repair the tyre, he must get the approval from none other than Mr Quarcoo," said an internal source. Mr Quarcoo is also in charge of purchases of subscribed newspapers.

"Yesterday, copies of the Standard newspaper that had been delivered in the office were returned after no one could sign for their receipt," the source said, revealing that the Star will no longer the Daily Nation and The Standard for its staff members including editors who need to familiarise themselves with the competition.

The changes come at a time of dwindling staff morale in the newspaper's head office and bureaus. Senior editors of the newspaper engaged in a WhatsApp fight correspondents recently after a reporter lamented that one editor had betrayed him by giving out confidential information about a story he filed to a news source. Enraged, correspondents around the country took on the editor in the WhatsApp group, forcing two senior editors to stop the discussion through summary contributions that did not even address the reporters' concern over the professional negligence of the implicated editor.

"I have never responded to the complaints raised here because l believe that if one indeed has a genuine personal issue to raise affecting their work it cannot be solved through a WhatsApp forum. Having worked at the Nation, Standard and the People I find that the Star operates one of the best open door policies where you can engage the CEO William Pike or all the Editors directly and they will give you audience. Try overstepping your bureau chief at the Nation or Standard and watch the consequences.

"So I find it completely out of tune for writers to use this forum to disparage editors and even other colleagues instead of taking up the matter formally. I will not mention individuals here and while they are free to utter whatever they want to say I personally have a reputation which has taken me decades to build and will not sit back and have this tarnished through blanket and baseless accusations. Let's style up and use this forum for the purpose it was created. I agree with Mureithi that some individuals have taken our silence for granted and have become activists on this forum. We shall act," one editor wrote.

An even senior editor wrote: "Ladies and gentlemen, a wise man once told me to associate with progressive, positive people and those attributes will rub on. I find it difficult to endure being a member of this group because negativity runs deep in its veins. Complaints make up 85 percent of the feedback here; insinuations, innuendos and a complete lack of mutual encouragement and motivation.

"If I had not started my career as an unpaid correspondent, before landing a retainer of Sh6k to build my career, I would have thought all junior writers and correspondents are the wretched of the earth. But I know better; I have seen journalists (including myself) start at the bottom and rise to the apex of the profession. Instead of exploring how to build your name to be recognised by peers in the trade and audiences, instead exploring the options available to maximise income so that you can live and work in dignity, instead of engaging your seniors for guidance and mentorship, you think it is bravado that will grow you.

"You insult your seniors, suggest they are taking bribes to kill stories, or that they don't like you and therefore fail to use your stories. You do not hesitate to assert your lack of respect. Well, I have news for you...what will make or break your career as a journalist, is above all, your ATTITUDE. Not whether you write a good intro (anyone can be taught to write a good intro), not whether you complain for better working conditions daily (that's easy) and most certainly not how much you can incite your colleagues (it is not strategic and can only backfire on you).

"It is how you feel about work, how you execute what you set out to do and how to guard and build your reputation. Because many of you derive pleasure in your negativity, and because the rest hold their breath to see how your editorial managers respond to the insinuations, you all end up wallowing in the miasma of self-defeat and dispair. You miss the opportunity that presents itself before you everyday. As someone who walked to work every day for years because I could not afford fare, because I knew the future I wanted, and as someone who decided to disassociate with negativity and seek to cleave to wise counsel, I am unable to continue being a member of this group, and I therefore 'exit' myself.

"I wish you well, but I am not confident many of you will manage to become media leaders in years to come unless you make a choice to do the right thing, in the right manner, with the right attitude...or you can continue posting the kind of stuff I have seen in this group. The choice is yours to exercise your free will."

The latter left the group immediately after writing the above statements, unnerving the reporters even further. "The notion that because some people walked to work early in their career entitles them to good judgment just baffles us. We have raised pertinent questions about the ethics of editors and we need these to be addressed," said a reporter who expressed concern about the paper's indifference to perceived corruption by its editorial managers.

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